Zach LaVine had 24 different teammates during his rookie year with the rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves. He was traded by the Wolves — to the Bulls — while rehabbing a torn ACL at age 21. Seemingly ever since, his name has ranged from a whisper to resounding drumbeat in trade rumors.
All of which is to say, LaVine understands the business side of basketball better than most. He has for some time.
But midway through his seventh NBA season, LaVine’s name isn’t dominating headlines as the trade deadline cycle reaches a fever pitch. Though opposing teams probably wish it were, his All-Star leap has quieted that noise.
Not all of LaVine’s Bulls teammates can say the same, including one of those fellow Wolves from 2014-15: Thad Young, who has been embroiled in rumors for weeks on end.
It’s easy to see why, of course. The 14-year veteran’s splendid two-way play and reputation as a locker-room leader make him a tidy fit on almost any contender. His affordable contract, which carries a partial guarantee for the 2021-22 season, makes him a practical one too.
LaVine sees that. He understands it. Ask him anything related to the rumor mill and the first thing he’ll stress is that he’s not an executive and that it’s not in his DNA to tell anyone else how to do their job.
“You learn quickly not to get too close to people but still have relationships,” LaVine said after Wednesday morning shootaround in advance of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls’ last before the deadline. “Thad understands that side of it. We all understand his value and how good he is and what a championship or high-rising playoff team could get out of him.”
Still, he’d prefer if Young sticks around past Thursday’s 2 p.m. CT deadline.
“Obviously, I want him (Young) here,” LaVine added. “I think he helps me and helps the team tremendously. But obviously if something were to happen you just want the best situation for a guy like that.”
Averaging a career-high 4.4 assists per game and shooting a career-best 59.2 percent, Young has been an engine of efficient offense and defensive linchpin for the Bulls all season. The Bulls enter Wednesday ranked 19th in the NBA with a -0.8 net rating, but outscore opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions with Young on the floor. With LaVine and Young: 8.5 points per 100 possessions. LaVine called Young the MVP of the team weeks before head coach Billy Donovan inserted him into the starting lineup over Wendell Carter Jr.
While the Bulls’ 19-23 record and ninth-place position in the Eastern Conference may underwhelm given the themes of fourth-quarter collapses and wilting against good teams, a large share of credit for even that degree of success is owed to the LaVine-Young tandem. LaVine’s desire to reach the postseason, a white whale he hasn’t yet slayed in his NBA career, is well-documented.
So is Young’s off-court impact on players up and down the roster, including a friendship with LaVine that runs deep enough for him to be included in a surprise Zoom call to celebrate LaVine’s first All-Star selection in February.
Young, meanwhile, has held firm in his commitment to the Bulls as long as he’s around.
“As long as I'm here, I'm here to do a job and that's my focus, is to do the job that I'm here to do, which is help these young guys and continue to play as hard as I can each and every night and help try to continue to win,” Young said after Monday’s loss to the Jazz. “Haven't really worried too much about the trade situation or haven't discussed it, not talked about it. Nor do I really even care to talk about it. If it happens, it happens, I understand it's a part of the business, and I understand how the business works. So whatever happens happens, and I try to just control what I can control at all times.”